CIOs influence growing around mission, budget, survey finds

Tuesday - 1/17/2012, 4:24pm EST

Commerce CIO Simon Szykman joined Federal News Radio's Francis Rose and Jason Miller for a discussion of the results

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WFED's Jason Miller on the Federal Drive

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Federal chief information officers are influencing mission-critical decisions and having oversight over more spending than ever before.

More than half of the CIOs and deputy CIOs who responded to an exclusive online Federal News Radio survey about their 2012 priorities said the recent Office of Management and Budget memo giving them oversight over commodity IT spending either will improve how they manage IT spending or codifies their existing authorities. Only 16 percent said the memo will not make a difference.

More than two-thirds of the respondents said their agency's senior decision-makers value their input and 80 percent said those same leaders understand the value information technology brings to the mission.

"OMB needs to tell the 'business side' of the agency to focus this around the CIO," wrote one respondent.

Another respondent wrote, "I already am the chief geek and have a seat. It will provide authority for de-duplicating commodity software."

Federal News Radio conducted a survey of 89 CIOs and deputy CIOs on their 2012 priorities between October and November 2011. We received a 27 percent response rate with 42 percent coming from Cabinet-level agencies, 8 percent coming from large agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, and 50 percent from small agencies.

Of those whom responded, 66 percent have been CIOs or deputy CIOs for 1-to-3 years and 29 percent have been in their positions for more than four years. Finally, 88 percent of the respondents were career employees and 12 percent were political appointees.

Commerce Department Chief Information Officer Simon Szykman, joined In Depth with Francis Rose and Federal News Radio Executive Editor Jason Miller for an interview about the CIO survey. Szykman said he was slightly surprised at the number of respondents who said their agency's chief decision-makers value CIO input.

"I remember in the past hearing the mantra of 'well, they just dont' get it.' They being the senior decision-makers regarding the value and impact of IT," Szykman said. "So certainly I think there's been a positive change in that respect."

But not all CIOs thought the OMB memo expanding CIO authority would help. One wrote, "No impact. Agency does not react to such memos." While another said, "CIOs need to be more substantially empowered to carry out the intent of the memo."

Still when asked about the impact of the memo, 30 percent said it would move them closer to affecting the mission of their agency and 17 percent said it would facilitate having a seat at the table. Interestingly, 25 percent weren't sure of the memo's impact.

At the same time, 50 percent of the respondents said they already have oversight over spending, while 25 percent said they have oversight over certain types of spending and 25 percent said they do not have oversight over any spending.

"All funds go through the CFO's office making it difficult to manage cross-agency projects as truly envisioned," wrote one CIO.

Another said they need help around mission IT spending and yet another said they do not have oversight over spending by the CFO on technology.

Expected budget cuts remain one of the CIOs biggest concerns.

Respondents were split almost evenly about the impact of reductions to their agency's budgets in 2013 and beyond: 29 percent said they feared not having the ability to spend a little to save a lot; 29 percent said mission critical IT needs will go unmet; and 25 percent said a hiring freeze will prevent them from bringing on critical IT needs.

"Productivity tools such as agency issued mobile devices will be eliminated," wrote one CIO about the impact budget cuts could have on their agency.

Moving out of budget areas, CIOs and deputy CIOs on average ranked cybersecurity as their top priority with mobile computing, cutting IT spending on administrative functions, IT program and project management and cloud computing among the next set of priorities.

Many of these priorities are driven by OMB's 25-point IT reform plan.

CIOs again were split with the reaction to the impact of those initiatives: 37 percent said it's improving how IT is managed; 33 percent said it's too early to tell; and 29 percent said it's not having any effect on how they manage IT at all.

"It assisted in helping me focus on what I must do for my agency," commented one CIO.

Another CIO wasn't as positive. "It's theory, not what agencies need to ensure the CIO has control of funds. OMB should heed their project management recommendations and implement initiatives with PM teams to try to get lasting change."

Still, agencies are meeting the first set of initiatives under the reform, including moving systems to the cloud. The survey found 83 percent said they would meet OMB's deadline to move at least one function to the cloud by the end of 2011.

Szykman said his own reaction, as an agency CIO, to the OMB mandate to move at least one service to cloud by the end of 2011 was that the goal was "definitely manageable."

But he also noted that agencies are facing "a very strong incentive from a business perspective" to be even more aggressive in their cloud goals.

"I think that, in general, this is a trend that would have happened anyway," he said. "And, in many cases, I think it's really the business drivers that are moving agencies in that direction more than it is the need to sort of meet these targets that were set."

And over the next year, CIOs and deputy CIOs say websites and Web hosting, email and collaboration tools, data storage and data center consolidation, and test and development environment are IT functions most likely to move to the cloud.

"Security is still the biggest barrier. There seems to be a conflict between government entities on how safe it is to move to the cloud especially for national security agencies," one CIO wrote.

Another commented on the need for secure, cloud opportunities with short term cost-benefit advantages. "If there is a strong business case with demonstrated results in the government, we will jump for a cloud solution."

One major theme throughout the survey from CIOs and deputy CIOs centered on using IT to improve operations and become more efficient.

"Need to move to common IT infrastructure shared services," commented one CIO when asked for other comments about the state of federal IT.

Another's comments followed a similar path, "There's far greater need for shared IT services to drive savings. Common configuration control, cloud platforms and mobile applications will truly help the government move away from current stovepipes and costly legacy systems."

Several respondents commented on OMB's role.

One expressed frustration over the number of unfunded mandates, "that, if implemented, would stop us dead in our tracks."

Finally, one CIO said OMB's role can only go so far.

"In the end, though, the CIO is responsible for producing value, demonstrating stewardship and, most importantly, delivering mission results for the agency. If the CIO isn't doing this or has this as his or her primary drivers, there isn't much OMB can do to make it happen."

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